100 Essential Books

This is one of the 200 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • The Iliad by Homer

    This epic poem focuses on the final weeks of the Trojan War, a conflict between the city of Troy and the Greek city-states. The story explores themes of war, honor, wrath, and divine intervention, with a particular focus on the Greek hero Achilles, whose anger and refusal to fight have devastating consequences. The narrative also delves into the lives of the gods, their relationships with humans, and their influence on the course of events.

  • The Odyssey by Homer

    This epic poem follows the Greek hero Odysseus on his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. Along the way, he encounters many obstacles including mythical creatures, divine beings, and natural disasters. Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, his wife Penelope and son Telemachus fend off suitors vying for Penelope's hand in marriage, believing Odysseus to be dead. The story concludes with Odysseus's return, his slaughter of the suitors, and his reunion with his family.

  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare

    This classic play revolves around the young Prince of Denmark who is thrown into a state of emotional turmoil after his father's sudden death and his mother's quick remarriage to his uncle. The prince is visited by the ghost of his father who reveals that he was murdered by the uncle, prompting the prince to seek revenge. The narrative explores themes of madness, revenge, and moral corruption as the prince navigates the complex political and emotional landscape of the Danish court.

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

    This classic novel follows the adventures of a man who, driven mad by reading too many chivalric romances, decides to become a knight-errant and roam the world righting wrongs under the name Don Quixote. Accompanied by his loyal squire, Sancho Panza, he battles windmills he believes to be giants and champions the virtuous lady Dulcinea, who is in reality a simple peasant girl. The book is a richly layered critique of the popular literature of Cervantes' time and a profound exploration of reality and illusion, madness and sanity.

  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

    In this epic poem, the protagonist embarks on an extraordinary journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso). Guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil and his beloved Beatrice, he encounters various historical and mythological figures in each realm, witnessing the eternal consequences of earthly sins and virtues. The journey serves as an allegory for the soul's progression towards God, offering profound insights into the nature of good and evil, free will, and divine justice.

  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

    This renowned novel is a sweeping exploration of memory, love, art, and the passage of time, told through the narrator's recollections of his childhood and experiences into adulthood in the late 19th and early 20th century aristocratic France. The narrative is notable for its lengthy and intricate involuntary memory episodes, the most famous being the "madeleine episode". It explores the themes of time, space and memory, but also raises questions about the nature of art and literature, and the complex relationships between love, sexuality, and possession.

  • Ulysses by James Joyce

    Set in Dublin, the novel follows a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, an advertising salesman, as he navigates the city. The narrative, heavily influenced by Homer's Odyssey, explores themes of identity, heroism, and the complexities of everyday life. It is renowned for its stream-of-consciousness style and complex structure, making it a challenging but rewarding read.

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

    Set in the backdrop of the Napoleonic era, the novel presents a panorama of Russian society and its descent into the chaos of war. It follows the interconnected lives of five aristocratic families, their struggles, romances, and personal journeys through the tumultuous period of history. The narrative explores themes of love, war, and the meaning of life, as it weaves together historical events with the personal stories of its characters.

  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    A young, impoverished former student in Saint Petersburg, Russia, formulates a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker to redistribute her wealth among the needy. However, after carrying out the act, he is consumed by guilt and paranoia, leading to a psychological battle within himself. As he grapples with his actions, he also navigates complex relationships with a variety of characters, including a virtuous prostitute, his sister, and a relentless detective. The narrative explores themes of morality, redemption, and the psychological impacts of crime.

  • Essays by Michel de Montaigne

    This collection of essays explores a wide range of topics such as solitude, cannibals, the power of the imagination, the education of children, and the nature of friendship. The author employs a unique and personal approach to philosophy, using anecdotes and personal reflections to illustrate his points. The essays provide a profound insight into human nature and condition, and are considered a significant contribution to both literature and philosophy.

  • Oedipus the King by Sophocles

    "Oedipus the King" is a tragic play that revolves around the life of Oedipus, the king of Thebes, who is prophesied to kill his father and marry his mother. Despite his attempts to avoid this fate, Oedipus unknowingly fulfills the prophecy. When he discovers the truth about his actions, he blinds himself in despair. The play explores themes of fate, free will, and the quest for truth, highlighting the tragic consequences of human hubris and ignorance.

  • Othello by William Shakespeare

    "Othello" is a tragic play about a Moorish general in the Venetian army who is manipulated by his ensign into believing that his wife is unfaithful. Consumed by jealousy, the general kills his wife, only to discover that she was innocent. Filled with remorse, he then takes his own life. The play explores themes of love, jealousy, betrayal, and racism.

  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

    Madame Bovary is a tragic novel about a young woman, Emma Bovary, who is married to a dull, but kind-hearted doctor. Dissatisfied with her life, she embarks on a series of extramarital affairs and indulges in a luxurious lifestyle in an attempt to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Her desire for passion and excitement leads her down a path of financial ruin and despair, ultimately resulting in a tragic end.

  • Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    The book is a tragic play in two parts that tells the story of a scholarly man named Faust, who becomes dissatisfied with his life and makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles. In exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures, Faust agrees to give his soul to Mephistopheles after death. The narrative explores themes of ambition, despair, love, and redemption, ultimately leading to Faust's salvation.

  • The Trial by Franz Kafka

    The book revolves around a bank clerk who wakes one morning to find himself under arrest for an unspecified crime. Despite not being detained, he is subjected to the psychological torment of a bizarre and nightmarish judicial process. The story is a critique of bureaucracy, exploring themes of guilt, alienation and the inefficiency of the justice system.

  • Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

    The novel is a reimagining of the Faust legend set in the context of the first half of the 20th century and the turmoil of Germany in that period. It tells the story of a composer who makes a pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited creative genius. The protagonist's life and work reflect the cultural and political journey of Germany leading up to World War II, providing a deep exploration of the individual's role in a society undergoing dramatic change. The novel is also a profound meditation on the nature of time, the art and the artist, and the destructiveness of human ambition.

  • The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire

    "The Flowers of Evil" is a collection of poems that explore themes of decadence and eroticism, and the changing nature of beauty in the rapidly industrializing Paris during the 19th century. The work is renowned for its exploration of the paradoxes of pleasure and pain, the exotic and the commonplace, and the boundaries of morality and aesthetics. The poems challenge traditional notions of good and evil, suggesting that beauty can be found in unexpected and even disturbing places.

  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

    The novel is a complex exploration of the tragic Compson family from the American South. Told from four distinct perspectives, the story unfolds through stream of consciousness narratives, each revealing their own understanding of the family's decline. The characters grapple with post-Civil War societal changes, personal loss, and their own mental instability. The narrative is marked by themes of time, innocence, and the burdens of the past.

  • The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot

    "The Waste Land" is a long poem that presents a bleak and despairing view of the world following the devastation of World War I. The poem is divided into five parts and uses a wide range of literary and cultural references, as well as multiple narrators, to depict a world in ruins. It explores themes of disillusionment, despair, and the decline of civilization, and is often considered a seminal work of modernist literature.

  • The Theogony by Hesiod

    "The Theogony" is an ancient Greek epic poem that explores the genealogy of the gods. The narrative begins with the primordial deities Chaos, Gaia, and Eros, then progresses through the generations of Titans, Olympian gods, and mortal heroes. It provides an account of the struggles and power dynamics among these divine beings, culminating in the reign of Zeus as the king of the gods. The poem is a significant source of Greek mythology and offers insights into the ancient Greeks' worldview and their understanding of the universe's origins.

  • Metamorphoses by Ovid

    "Metamorphoses" is a classical epic poem that narrates the history of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar within a loose mythico-historical framework. The narrative is filled with stories of transformation, focusing on myths and legends of the Greek and Roman world. The tales, which include the stories of Daedalus and Icarus, King Midas, and Pyramus and Thisbe, among others, are all linked by the common theme of transformation, often as a punishment or reward from the gods.

  • The Red and the Black by Stendhal

    The novel is a detailed psychological portrait of Julien Sorel, a young man from a provincial background who aspires to rise above his humble beginnings. He uses his intelligence and hypocrisy to advance in the post-Napoleonic French society, which is deeply divided by class and political loyalties. The story is a critique of the society's materialism and hypocrisy as Julien's ambitions lead him to a tragic end. The title refers to the contrasting uniforms of the army and the church, the two routes available to him for upward mobility.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Set in the summer of 1922, the novel follows the life of a young and mysterious millionaire, his extravagant lifestyle in Long Island, and his obsessive love for a beautiful former debutante. As the story unfolds, the millionaire's dark secrets and the corrupt reality of the American dream during the Jazz Age are revealed. The narrative is a critique of the hedonistic excess and moral decay of the era, ultimately leading to tragic consequences.

  • A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud

    "A Season in Hell" is a deeply introspective work, exploring the author's tumultuous life and struggles through a series of prose poems. The author grapples with his own moral crisis, spiritual torment and the anguish of unrequited love, while also critiquing society and the human condition. This journey through despair and redemption, filled with vivid and surreal imagery, is considered one of the pioneering works of Symbolist literature.

  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

    Set in early 19th-century France, the narrative follows the lives and interactions of several characters, particularly the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his journey towards redemption. The story touches upon the nature of law and grace, and elaborates upon the history of France, architecture of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. It is known for its vivid and relatable characters, and its exploration of societal and moral issues.

  • The Stranger by Albert Camus

    The narrative follows a man who, after the death of his mother, falls into a routine of indifference and emotional detachment, leading him to commit an act of violence on a sun-drenched beach. His subsequent trial becomes less about the act itself and more about his inability to conform to societal norms and expectations, ultimately exploring themes of existentialism, absurdism, and the human condition.

  • Medea by Euripides

    "Medea" is a Greek tragedy that tells the story of Medea, a former princess of the "barbarian" kingdom of Colchis, and her husband Jason, who leave her to marry Glauce, the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth. In a fit of rage, Medea decides to take revenge on Jason by killing their children, Jason's new wife, and her father, King Creon. The play explores themes of revenge, women's rights, and the dangers of absolute power.

  • The Aeneid by Virgil

    This epic poem tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travels to Italy, where he becomes the ancestor of the Romans. It includes a series of prophecies about Rome's future and the deeds of heroic individuals, and is divided into two sections, the first illustrating the hero's journey and the second detailing the wars and battles that ensue as Aeneas attempts to establish a new home in Italy. The narrative is deeply imbued with themes of duty, fate, and divine intervention.

  • Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will by William Shakespeare

    Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will is a comedic play that revolves around mistaken identities and love triangles. The story follows the adventures of Viola, who, after being shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother Sebastian, disguises herself as a man named Cesario. As Cesario, she enters the service of Duke Orsino and falls in love with him, even as he sends her to woo the Countess Olivia on his behalf. However, Olivia falls in love with Cesario, not knowing he is actually Viola in disguise. Further confusion ensues when Viola's presumed-dead brother Sebastian arrives, leading to mistaken identities, hilarious mix-ups, and ultimately, happy resolutions.

  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

    Set during World War I, the novel follows an American ambulance driver in the Italian army and his love affair with a British nurse. The story is a first-person account of the protagonist's experiences in war and his struggle to survive amidst chaos and destruction. The narrative explores themes of love, war, and the fragility of life, culminating in a tragic ending that underscores the futile nature of war and the inevitable suffering it brings.

  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

    This classic novel follows the journey of a seaman who travels up the Congo River into the African interior to meet a mysterious ivory trader. Throughout his journey, he encounters the harsh realities of imperialism, the brutal treatment of native Africans, and the depths of human cruelty and madness. The protagonist's journey into the 'heart of darkness' serves as both a physical exploration of the African continent and a metaphorical exploration into the depths of human nature.

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

    Set in a dystopian future, the novel explores a society where human beings are genetically bred and pharmaceutically conditioned to serve in a ruling order. The society is divided into five castes, each with its specific roles. The narrative follows a savage who rejects the norms of this new world order and struggles to navigate the clash between the values of his upbringing and the reality of this technologically advanced, emotionless society. His resistance prompts a deep examination of the nature of freedom, individuality, and happiness.

  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

    The novel chronicles a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high-society woman in post-World War I England, as she prepares for a party she is hosting that evening. Throughout the day, she encounters various characters from her past, including a former suitor and a shell-shocked war veteran. The narrative jumps back and forth in time and in and out of different characters' minds, exploring themes of mental illness, existentialism, and the nature of time.

  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville

    The novel is a detailed narrative of a vengeful sea captain's obsessive quest to hunt down a giant white sperm whale that bit off his leg. The captain's relentless pursuit, despite the warnings and concerns of his crew, leads them on a dangerous journey across the seas. The story is a complex exploration of good and evil, obsession, and the nature of reality, filled with rich descriptions of whaling and the sea.

  • The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe

    This collection brings together all of the author's most famous works, including poems, short stories, and novellas. Known for his macabre and gothic storytelling, the author's works are filled with themes of death, love lost, and human frailty. Notable inclusions are the haunting poem "The Raven," the chilling stories "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Fall of the House of Usher," and his only complete novel, "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym."

  • The Human Comedy by Honoré de Balzac

    "The Human Comedy" is a series of interconnected novels and stories that depict the lives, ambitions, and failures of a wide range of characters in French society during the first half of the 19th century. The series explores the complexities of human nature and society, offering a panorama of French life from the aristocracy to the working class. It presents a detailed and vividly realistic portrayal of the social, political, and economic life of the time.

  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

    A young orphan boy, living with his cruel older sister and her kind blacksmith husband, has an encounter with an escaped convict that changes his life. Later, he becomes the protégé of a wealthy but reclusive woman and falls in love with her adopted daughter. He then learns that an anonymous benefactor has left him a fortune, leading him to believe that his benefactor is the reclusive woman and that she intends for him to marry her adopted daughter. He moves to London to become a gentleman, but his great expectations are ultimately shattered when he learns the true identity of his benefactor and the reality of his love interest.

  • The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil

    "The Man Without Qualities" is a satirical novel set in Vienna during the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It follows the life of Ulrich, a thirty-two-year-old mathematician, who is in search of a sense of life and reality but is caught up in the societal changes and political chaos of his time. The book explores themes of existentialism, morality, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world.

  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

    This classic satire follows the travels of a surgeon and sea captain who embarks on a series of extraordinary voyages. The protagonist first finds himself shipwrecked on an island inhabited by tiny people, later discovers a land of giants, then encounters a society of intelligent horses, and finally lands on a floating island of scientists. Through these bizarre adventures, the novel explores themes of human nature, morality, and society, offering a scathing critique of European culture and the human condition.

  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

    This complex and challenging novel is renowned for its experimental style and intricate, dreamlike narrative. It explores the story of a publican in Dublin, his wife, and their three children, but the plot is not linear and often veers into surreal and abstract territory. The book is dense with linguistic games, puns, and allusions to a myriad of cultural, historical, and mythological sources. The narrative is circular, ending in the middle of a sentence that is completed at the start of the book, embodying the cyclical nature of life and history.

  • The Lusiad by Luís Vaz Camões

    "The Lusiad" is an epic poem that chronicles the historic voyage of Vasco da Gama, who discovered a sea route from Portugal to India in 1497-1498. The narrative is filled with both historical events and fantastical elements, including sea monsters and divine intervention. The story celebrates Portugal's maritime exploration and its heroes, while also reflecting on the human condition and the nature of life, destiny, and the cosmos.

  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

    Set in 17th century France, the novel follows the adventures of a young man who leaves home to join the Musketeers of the Guard. He befriends three of the most daring musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, and together, they navigate political intrigue, love affairs, and duels. Their main enemies are the powerful Cardinal Richelieu and the beautiful but treacherous Milady, who will stop at nothing to bring them down.

  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

    This classic novel explores the life of a young, independent American woman who inherits a large amount of money and moves to Europe, where she falls into a manipulative and oppressive marriage. The story delves into themes of personal freedom, responsibility, and betrayal, as the protagonist navigates the complexities of high society, love, and the consequences of her choices.

  • Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

    "Decameron" is a collection of 100 stories told by a group of seven young women and three young men sheltering in a secluded villa just outside Florence to escape the Black Death, which was afflicting the city. The tales, which range from the erotic to the tragic, the hilarious to the instructional, are embedded in a rich framework narrative that provides a detailed portrait of the society of the Italian Renaissance.

  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

    "Waiting for Godot" is a play that explores themes of existentialism, despair, and the human condition through the story of two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who wait endlessly for a man named Godot, who never arrives. While they wait, they engage in a variety of discussions and encounter three other characters. The play is characterized by its minimalistic setting and lack of a traditional plot, leaving much to interpretation.

  • Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell

    Set in a dystopian future, the novel presents a society under the total control of a totalitarian regime, led by the omnipresent Big Brother. The protagonist, a low-ranking member of 'the Party', begins to question the regime and falls in love with a woman, an act of rebellion in a world where independent thought, dissent, and love are prohibited. The novel explores themes of surveillance, censorship, and the manipulation of truth.

  • Galileo by Bertolt Brecht

    This play delves into the life of the renowned Italian scientist, Galileo Galilei, who challenged the church's belief in a geocentric universe. It explores his struggles against the Catholic Church, his recantation, and the consequences of his actions on his life and those around him. The narrative also examines the conflict between science and religion, the ethics of scientific discovery, and the price of truth.

  • Maldoror (Les Chants de Maldoror) by Comte de Lautréamont

    "Maldoror (Les Chants de Maldoror)" is a poetic novel that explores the dark and surreal world of the protagonist, Maldoror, a figure of absolute evil who rejects God and conventional morality, often expressing a violent hatred towards humanity. The book is composed of six cantos filled with bizarre and often shocking imagery, which depict Maldoror's experiences in a world that he perceives as chaotic and indifferent. The novel is known for its vivid and often disturbing exploration of the human condition and its subversion of traditional literary norms.

  • Collected Poems by Stéphane Mallarmé

    "Collected Poems" is a compilation of poetic works by a renowned French poet. The book offers readers a deep exploration into the intricate world of symbolism and the power of language. The author's artistic use of words to create vivid imagery and evoke profound emotions is evident throughout the collection. His poems delve into themes of reality, dreams, and the interplay between the two, offering a unique perspective on the human experience.

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

    The novel tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a man with a disturbing obsession for young girls, or "nymphets" as he calls them. His obsession leads him to engage in a manipulative and destructive relationship with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Lolita. The narrative is a controversial exploration of manipulation, obsession, and unreliable narration, as Humbert attempts to justify his actions and feelings throughout the story.

  • Tartuffe by Molière

    This classic French play revolves around the character Tartuffe, a hypocritical and cunning man who pretends to be deeply pious and religious. He manages to deceive Orgon, a wealthy family patriarch, into believing in his piety. Orgon is so taken in by Tartuffe that he decides to marry him off to his daughter, despite her love for another man. The family works together to expose Tartuffe's true nature, leading to a series of comic and dramatic events. The play is a satirical critique of religious hypocrisy and gullibility.

  • Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov

    "Three Sisters" is a play that revolves around the lives of three sisters, Olga, Masha, and Irina, who live in a provincial Russian town and yearn for their former life in Moscow. The story explores their relationships, dreams, and disappointments, as well as their interactions with the military officers stationed nearby. The narrative is a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the relentless passage of time, highlighting the human struggle for meaning and happiness.

  • One Thousand and One Nights by Unknown

    This is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled during the Islamic Golden Age. The stories are told by a young woman, who must weave a new tale each night for her husband, a king, to delay her execution. The tales are filled with magic, adventure, love, and betrayal, and include well-known stories such as "Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp", "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves", and "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor".

  • The Trickster of Seville and His Guest of Stone by Tirso de Molina

    "The Trickster of Seville and His Guest of Stone" is a classic Spanish play that tells the story of a libertine nobleman who seduces women and leaves them, refusing to marry. His actions lead to severe consequences when he invites a statue of a man he has wronged to dinner. The statue, representing divine justice, accepts the invitation and later reciprocates, leading to the protagonist's downfall. The play is widely recognized for introducing the legendary character of the seductive rogue to the world of literature.

  • Mensagem by Fernando Pessoa

    "Mensagem" is a collection of 44 poems that pay homage to Portugal's heroic past, particularly its Age of Discovery. The work is divided into three parts: the first part focuses on the country's mythical origins, the second part celebrates the nation's maritime explorations and discoveries, and the third part reflects on the decline and future resurrection of Portugal. The author uses symbolic and allegorical language to convey his deep love for his homeland and his belief in its potential for greatness.

  • Paradise Lost by John Milton

    "Paradise Lost" is an epic poem that explores the biblical story of Adam and Eve's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. It delves into their temptation by Satan, their subsequent expulsion, and the consequences of their disobedience. The narrative also provides a complex portrayal of Satan as a rebellious angel, who, after being cast out of Heaven, seeks revenge by causing mankind's downfall. The poem is a profound exploration of free will, divine justice, and the human struggle with good and evil.

  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

    The book is a classic adventure novel about a man who spends 28 years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and mutineers before being rescued. The story is noted for its realistic portrayal of the protagonist's physical and psychological development and for its detailed depiction of his attempts to create a life for himself in the wilderness. The novel has been interpreted as an allegory for the development of civilization, as well as a critique of European colonialism.

  • The Counterfeiters by André Gide

    "The Counterfeiters" is a complex novel that explores themes of authenticity, morality, and identity, primarily through the lens of a group of friends in Paris. The story revolves around a series of counterfeit coins, which serve as a metaphor for the characters' struggles with their own authenticity and self-perception. The narrative also delves into the lives of the characters, their relationships, personal struggles, and their journey towards self-discovery. The book is noted for its non-linear structure and metafictional elements, with the author himself being a character in the story.

  • The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas by Machado de Assis

    The novel is a unique and satirical work, narrated by a dead man, Bras Cubas, who recounts his life from beyond the grave. The story is filled with ironic humor and philosophical musings as Bras Cubas explores his past, his relationships, and the societal norms of his time. The narrative breaks conventional storytelling norms, often addressing the reader directly and jumping through time without warning. Themes of love, wealth, power, and the human condition are explored, providing a critique of 19th-century Brazilian society.

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

    The novel follows the life of a handsome young man who, after having his portrait painted, is upset to realize that the painting will remain beautiful while he ages. After expressing a wish that the painting would age instead of him, he is shocked to find that his wish comes true. As he indulges in a life of hedonism and immoral acts, his portrait becomes increasingly grotesque, reflecting the damage his actions have on his soul. The story serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of vanity, selfishness, and the pursuit of pleasure without regard for consequences.

  • Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

    In this metatheatrical play, six characters come to life and demand that a theater director tell their tragic story, which was left incomplete by their author. As the director and his actors interact with these characters, the boundaries between fiction and reality blur, leading to a philosophical exploration of the nature of human identity, the reliability of art, and the unreliability of perception. The characters' story, involving a complex web of familial relationships, adultery, and suicide, further complicates the narrative, challenging the audience's understanding of truth and illusion.

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

    This novel follows the story of a young girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantastical world full of peculiar creatures and bizarre experiences. As she navigates through this strange land, she encounters a series of nonsensical events, including a tea party with a Mad Hatter, a pool of tears, and a trial over stolen tarts. The book is renowned for its playful use of language, logic, and its exploration of the boundaries of reality.

  • Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre

    The novel follows a historian living in a small French town, struggling with a strange and unsettling feeling of disgust and revulsion he calls 'nausea'. He grapples with the existential dread of his own existence and the meaningless of life, continually questioning his own perceptions and the nature of reality. As he navigates through his everyday life, he is plagued by his philosophical thoughts and the overwhelming sensation of nausea, leading him to a profound existential crisis.

  • Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo

    "Confessions of Zeno" is a satirical, semi-autobiographical novel that follows the life of Zeno Cosini, a neurotic Italian businessman, as he tries to quit smoking. The book is presented as a diary, written at the suggestion of Zeno's psychoanalyst, and it details Zeno's thoughts on his health, his family, his business ventures, and his infatuation with a beautiful woman. Throughout the story, Zeno's attempts to quit smoking serve as a metaphor for his struggles with his personal weaknesses and his quest for self-understanding.

  • Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill

    "Long Day's Journey Into Night" is a semi-autobiographical play that explores the complex dynamics of a family tormented by addiction and regret. The narrative follows the Tyrone family, composed of two parents and their two adult sons, over the course of a single day. As the day progresses, the family members engage in soul-baring conversations that reveal their individual struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, their deep-seated resentments, and the love that binds them together despite their flaws. The play is a poignant examination of the human condition, familial bonds, and the destructive power of addiction.

  • Man's Fate by Andre Malraux

    Set in 1920s Shanghai during a time of political upheaval, the novel explores the existential themes of life, death, and the human condition through the experiences of a group of revolutionaries. The narrative follows their struggles and sacrifices for their cause, the Communist revolution, and their inevitable confrontation with their own mortality and the harsh realities of life. The book delves into the complexities of political ideologies, human relationships and the constant struggle between hope and despair.

  • The Poetry of Ezra Pound by Ezra Pound

    This book is a comprehensive collection of the works of a renowned poet, known for his significant influence on modern literature. It includes his most famous poems, along with lesser-known pieces, providing a complete overview of his poetic style and themes. The author's work is characterized by his innovative use of form and language, his incorporation of various cultural and historical references, and his exploration of complex philosophical and political ideas. The book serves as an essential resource for understanding the evolution of modern poetry.

  • Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake

    This collection of poems contrasts the innocent world of childhood with the often corrupt and oppressive world of adulthood. The "Songs of Innocence" section contains poems which are simple and happy, often written from the perspective of a child or a benevolent deity. The "Songs of Experience" section, however, contains darker, more complex poems that deal with serious themes such as poverty, injustice, and the abuse of power. The collection as a whole explores the two contrasting states of the human soul and encourages the reader to consider the balance between them.

  • A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

    "A Streetcar Named Desire" is a classic American play that explores themes of desire, desperation, and decay through the story of Blanche DuBois, a former schoolteacher from a once-wealthy Southern family who moves in with her sister Stella and her brutish husband Stanley in their cramped apartment in New Orleans. As Blanche grapples with her own past traumas and the harsh realities of her present situation, her mental state deteriorates, leading to a tragic end. The play presents a stark contrast between the genteel Old South and the gritty, working-class reality of post-WWII America.

  • Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

    "Collected Fiction" is a compilation of stories by a renowned author that takes readers on a journey through a world of philosophical paradoxes, intellectual humor, and fantastical realities. The book features a range of narratives, from complex, multi-layered tales of labyrinths and detective investigations, to metaphysical explorations of infinity and the nature of identity. It offers an immersive and thought-provoking reading experience, blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction, past and present, and the self and the universe.

  • Rhinoceros and Other Plays by Eugène Ionesco

    "Rhinoceros and Other Plays" is a collection of three absurdist dramas that explore themes of conformity, culture, and mass movements. The titular play depicts a small French town where the inhabitants inexplicably transform into rhinoceroses, symbolizing the rise of fascism and the dangers of conformity. The other two plays, "The Leader" and "The Future is in Eggs," continue to explore these themes through a satirical and often surreal lens, challenging societal norms and the nature of reality itself.

  • Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch

    The novel explores the final hours of the Roman poet Virgil, who, while on his deathbed, contemplates the value and impact of his life's work, particularly his unfinished epic, the Aeneid. The narrative is a complex, stream-of-consciousness meditation on art, life, and death, with Virgil wrestling with his desire to burn his epic and the emperor's command to preserve it. The book delves into themes of the meaning of human existence, the role of art in society, and the clash between the individual's inner world and the external world.

  • Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

    "Leaves of Grass" is a collection of poetry that celebrates the human form and condition, while also exploring themes of democracy, nature, love, and friendship. The book, known for its departure from traditional poetic form, features a free verse style and the use of everyday language. The poet presents himself as both an individual and a universal figure, representing the collective American experience and identity. The collection is also notable for its controversial content at the time of its publication, including candid depictions of sexuality.

  • The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati

    The novel follows a young officer who spends his entire life waiting for an attack that never comes at a remote desert outpost. The protagonist's life is consumed by the monotonous routine and the fear of the unknown, reflecting on the human condition and the dread of the passage of time. The desert symbolizes the emptiness and futility of life, while the constant anticipation of a foreign invasion that never happens represents the anxiety and fear of death.

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    This novel is a multi-generational saga that focuses on the Buendía family, who founded the fictional town of Macondo. It explores themes of love, loss, family, and the cyclical nature of history. The story is filled with magical realism, blending the supernatural with the ordinary, as it chronicles the family's experiences, including civil war, marriages, births, and deaths. The book is renowned for its narrative style and its exploration of solitude, fate, and the inevitability of repetition in history.

  • Journey to the End of The Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

    The novel is a semi-autobiographical work that explores the harsh realities of life through the cynical and disillusioned eyes of the protagonist. The narrative follows his experiences from the trenches of World War I, through the African jungles, to the streets of America and the slums of Paris, showcasing the horrors of war, colonialism, and the dark side of human nature. The protagonist's journey is marked by his struggle with despair, loneliness, and the absurdity of existence, offering a bleak yet profound commentary on the human condition.

  • The Illustrious House of Ramires by Eça de Queirós

    The book follows the story of a young aristocrat from an ancient and noble family who is trying to write a historical novel about his heroic ancestors. However, he struggles with this task as he is constantly distracted by the mundane and frivolous happenings of his modern life. This satirical novel explores themes of national identity, history, and the contrast between the past and the present, all while providing a critique of 19th-century Portuguese society.

  • Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar

    This avant-garde novel invites readers into a non-linear narrative that can be read in two different orders, following the life of Horacio Oliveira, an Argentine intellectual living in Paris with his lover, La Maga. The story explores philosophical and metaphysical themes, delving into the nature of reality and the human condition, while also examining the struggles of intellectual and emotional life. The second part of the novel takes place in Buenos Aires, where Horacio returns after La Maga disappears, and where he grapples with his past, his identity, and his place in the world.

  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

    The book follows the Joad family, Oklahoma farmers displaced from their land during the Great Depression. The family, alongside thousands of other "Okies," travel to California in search of work and a better life. Throughout their journey, they face numerous hardships and injustices, yet maintain their humanity through unity and shared sacrifice. The narrative explores themes of man's inhumanity to man, the dignity of wrath, and the power of family and friendship, offering a stark and moving portrayal of the harsh realities of American migrant laborers during the 1930s.

  • Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar

    "Memoirs of Hadrian" is a historical novel that presents a fictional autobiography of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who reigned from 117 to 138 AD. Narrated in the first person, the novel explores Hadrian's ascension to the throne, his administration, his love for the young Antinous, and his philosophical reflections on life and death. The narrative is framed as a letter to his successor, Marcus Aurelius, offering insights into the complexities of power, the nature of leadership, and the human condition.

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

    The novel follows the story of a teenager named Holden Caulfield, who has just been expelled from his prep school. The narrative unfolds over the course of three days, during which Holden experiences various forms of alienation and his mental state continues to unravel. He criticizes the adult world as "phony" and struggles with his own transition into adulthood. The book is a profound exploration of teenage rebellion, alienation, and the loss of innocence.

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

    The novel follows the journey of a young boy named Huckleberry Finn and a runaway slave named Jim as they travel down the Mississippi River on a raft. Set in the American South before the Civil War, the story explores themes of friendship, freedom, and the hypocrisy of society. Through various adventures and encounters with a host of colorful characters, Huck grapples with his personal values, often clashing with the societal norms of the time.

  • Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen

    This collection of stories offers a mix of enchanting fairy tales and narratives, many of which have become universally recognized classics. The stories range from tales of whimsical creatures and magical realms to poignant narratives that explore themes of love, sacrifice, and the human condition. Some tales are light-hearted and humorous, while others are profound and thought-provoking, demonstrating the breadth and depth of the author's storytelling abilities.

  • The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

    "The Leopard" is a historical novel set in 19th-century Sicily, during the time of the Italian unification or Risorgimento. It centers on an aging, aristocratic protagonist who is coming to terms with the decline of his class and the rise of a new social order. The narrative weaves together personal drama with the larger political and social upheaval of the time, providing a rich, nuanced portrait of a society in transition. Despite his resistance to change, the protagonist ultimately recognizes its inevitability and the futility of his efforts to preserve the old ways.

  • Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

    The novel is a humorous, rambling narrative that chronicles the life of Tristram Shandy. The story is filled with digressions, anecdotes, and eccentric characters, as Tristram often interrupts his own tale to interject commentary or to recount stories from his family's past. Despite the seemingly haphazard structure, the novel is a clever exploration of narrative form and a satirical critique of traditional biographies and novels.

  • A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

    The novel takes place in British-ruled India, where the cultural divide between the British and the Indians is explored. The story focuses on the experiences of an Indian Muslim, Dr. Aziz, and his interactions with an English woman, Miss Quested, and her elderly friend, Mrs. Moore. After an expedition to the Marabar Caves, Miss Quested accuses Dr. Aziz of assault, leading to a trial that deepens the racial tensions and prejudices between the colonizers and the colonized. The novel is a critique of British imperialism and a study of the cultural and racial misunderstandings and ill-will between the British and the Indian people.

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    Set in early 19th-century England, this classic novel revolves around the lives of the Bennet family, particularly the five unmarried daughters. The narrative explores themes of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage within the society of the landed gentry. It follows the romantic entanglements of Elizabeth Bennet, the second eldest daughter, who is intelligent, lively, and quick-witted, and her tumultuous relationship with the proud, wealthy, and seemingly aloof Mr. Darcy. Their story unfolds as they navigate societal expectations, personal misunderstandings, and their own pride and prejudice.

  • Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

    The book is a semi-autobiographical novel set in 1930s Paris and describes the protagonist's life as a struggling writer. The narrative is filled with vivid descriptions of the city, sexual encounters, and philosophical musings, all penned in a stream-of-consciousness style. The protagonist's experiences living in poverty, his relationships with other expatriates, and his pursuit of artistic freedom are central to the story. Despite the explicit content, the novel is noted for its candid exploration of the human condition and the author's quest for personal and creative authenticity.

  • Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

    This classic novel explores the generational divide and ideological clash in 19th century Russia. The story focuses on the relationship between a liberal father and his nihilistic son, who challenges the traditional values and beliefs of his elders. As they navigate their personal differences, the novel delves into broader themes of progress, love, and societal change, offering a poignant commentary on the tension between old and new ideas in a rapidly changing world.

  • The Loser by Thomas Bernhard

    "The Loser" is a philosophical novel that revolves around the complex relationship between three friends who are all piano virtuosos. The narrative is driven by the protagonist's obsession with his friend's suicide, which he believes was triggered by the realization that they could never surpass the genius of their third friend. The book delves into the protagonist's psyche as he grapples with themes of talent, ambition, failure, and the destructive power of comparison.

  • Epic of Gilgamesh by Unknown

    This ancient Mesopotamian epic follows the story of Gilgamesh, a demigod king who rules over the city of Uruk. Unhappy with his reign, the gods create a wild man named Enkidu to challenge him. However, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become close friends and embark on several adventures together, including defeating the demon Humbaba and killing the Bull of Heaven. After Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh becomes obsessed with finding immortality, leading him on a journey to meet Utnapishtim, the only human who has been granted eternal life. The narrative explores themes of friendship, mortality, and the meaning of life.

  • Mahabharata by Vyasa

    The book is an English translation of the ancient Indian epic, originally written in Sanskrit, which tells the story of a great war that took place between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The narrative explores themes of duty, righteousness, and honor while also featuring a rich array of gods, goddesses, and supernatural beings. It is not only a tale of war and conflict, but also a profound philosophical and spiritual treatise, containing the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text of Hindu philosophy.

  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

    In this unique novel, a Venetian traveler describes 55 different cities to the Mongol emperor, each city more fantastical and surreal than the last. The cities are divided into categories such as "Cities and Memory," "Cities and Desire," "Cities and Signs," etc. As the traveler continues to describe these cities, it becomes clear that they are all actually the same city, Venice, seen from different perspectives and points in time. The novel explores themes of memory, perception, and the nature of human experience.

  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac

    This novel follows the story of a young man and his friend as they embark on a series of cross-country road trips across America during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The protagonist, driven by a desire for freedom and a quest for identity, encounters a series of eccentric characters and experiences the highs and lows of the Beat Generation. The narrative is a testament to the restlessness of youth and the allure of adventure, underscored by themes of jazz, poetry, and drug use.

  • Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

    The novel presents a poignant exploration of a man's struggle with his dual nature. The protagonist, a middle-aged man, finds himself torn between his humanistic, intellectual tendencies and his more primitive, wolf-like instincts. As he navigates his way through the surreal and sometimes hallucinatory world, he encounters various characters who challenge his views and push him towards self-discovery and transformation. The narrative delves into themes of alienation, the subconscious mind, and the search for meaning in life.

  • Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

    The novel is a first-person narrative, a monologue by a young Jewish man, Alexander Portnoy, who is speaking to his psychoanalyst. He shares his struggles with his identity as a Jewish man in America, his sexual fantasies and frustrations, his complex relationship with his overbearing mother, and his experiences of guilt and shame. The book uses humor and frank language to explore themes of identity, sexuality, and the Jewish experience in America.

  • Atonement by Ian McEwan

    Atonement is a powerful novel that explores the consequences of a young girl's false accusation. The narrative follows the lives of three characters, the accuser, her older sister, and the sister's lover, who is wrongly accused. This false accusation irrevocably alters their lives, leading to the accused's imprisonment and eventual enlistment in World War II, while the sisters grapple with guilt, estrangement, and their own personal growth. The novel is a profound exploration of guilt, forgiveness, and the destructive power of misinterpretation.

  • Disgrace by J M Coetzee

    "Disgrace" is a novel that explores the life of a middle-aged professor in South Africa who is dismissed from his position after having an affair with a student. After losing his job, he moves to the countryside to live with his daughter, where they experience a violent attack that significantly alters their lives. The story delves into themes of post-apartheid South Africa, racial tension, sexual exploitation, and the struggle for personal redemption.

  • The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

    "The Makioka Sisters" is a novel set in pre-World War II Japan, following the lives of four sisters from a once-wealthy Osaka family. The story focuses on their struggles to maintain their traditional lifestyle and status in a rapidly changing society. The two elder sisters are concerned with finding a suitable husband for the third sister, while the youngest sister, more modern and independent, resists the constraints of her family's expectations. The book provides a detailed and nuanced exploration of the clash between tradition and modernity in Japanese society.

  • Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

    The novel is a surrealistic exploration of Mexico, following a man named Juan Preciado who travels to the town of Comala to find his father, Pedro Paramo. Upon arrival, he discovers that Comala is a ghost town, inhabited by the spirits of its former residents. As Juan interacts with these spirits, the story of Pedro Paramo, a powerful and ruthless landowner, slowly unfolds. The narrative shifts between the past and the present, revealing a cycle of sin, corruption, and retribution that has left Comala and its people in a state of purgatory.

About this list

Bravo! Magazine, 100 Books

The Brazilian cultural magazine Bravo! selects 100 essential books.

Added about 9 years ago.

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